Trailing his hand down her body, Logan reached her stomach, then went still, his hand flattening over the place where she carried his seed. The thought that his child lay within her was a cold shock of reality. He rolled away and left the bed.

“Get dressed,” he said, making his expression blank. He headed toward the door. “I'll send for Dr. Brooke.”

“Logan…” Her use of his name caused his back to stiffen. “I've wanted to tell you…I'm sorry for what I did.”

“You'll be even sorrier in the future,” he said softly. “You can count on that.”

Strangely, it was not Dr. Brooke's examination that Madeline found humiliating, but rather Logan's presence in the room. He stood in the corner and watched the proceedings impassively, if seeming to expect that her claim of pregnancy would be revealed as a lie. She fixed her gaze on the ceiling, concentrating on the pattern of Grecian moldings. Somewhere inside there was a wild hope that she was mistaken, that there was no baby. But the awareness of life within her was undeniable, and she knew what Dr. Brooke's verdict would be.

She wondered if Logan would be a kind father, or if his animosity toward her would also extend to the baby. No—she couldn't imagine that he would an innocent child responsible for something that wasn't its fault. Perhaps time would soften him…it was her only hope.

The doctor stepped away from the bed and regarded her with a grave, vaguely disapproving expression that made her heart sink. “From what my examination has revealed, Miss Ridley, and what you've told me of your last monthly flux, I would expect the baby will arrive sometime at the end of June.”

Madeline slowly pulled the robe around herself. She didn't bother to correct the name he had used, reluctant to explain the situation to him. To her relief, Logan also refrained from mentioning her real name.

“Perhaps fatherhood will be good for you,” Dr. Brooke said to Logan. “It will give you something to think about besides that blessed theater.”

“No doubt,” Logan muttered without enthusiasm.

“If you would like to retain me as Miss Ridley's personal physician, there are a few instructions I'd like to give her—”

“By all means.” Logan stepped outside the room, suddenly feeling claustrophobic. He took no joy in the knowledge that Madeline was pregnant. The baby wasn't real to him. In fact, nothing about the situation seemed real. It was strange, however, that the rage he had felt for weeks had faded considerably since this morning. He was filled with a sense of relief that he didn't care to dwell on. Rubbing the back of his neck, he went downstairs, silently making plans. There was much to do during the next fortnight.

Mrs. Florence waited at the bottom of the stairs, staring at him expectantly. “Were Madeline's suspicions correct?” She read the answer in his eyes before he could reply. “Ah, that is wonderful news.” She smiled, her lined face suddenly glowing. “What are you thinking, to put such a sullen look on your face?”

“I'm wishing that I'd booted you out of my dressing room last night, instead of listening to you.”

Mrs. Florence laughed dryly. “I imagine Maddy is none too pleased with my interference, either. I console myself with the thought that someday you'll both thank me.”

“If I were you, I wouldn't count on that…Grandmother.” He put sarcastic emphasis on the word.

She cocked her silvery-red head and regarded him with bright eyes. “Have you begun to believe my story?”

“Not a word of it, until I go to Rochester's estate.”

“What a suspicious man you are,” she remarked. “Clearly it's from the Rochester strain in you. I've always been something of an optimist, myself.”

Logan did not touch Madeline once during the day-long trip to Gloucestershire. They sat in opposite seats, the conversation sporadic and filled with long silences. Madeline's maid, Norma, followed behind them in a second vehicle to allow them privacy.

“How is the theater?” Madeline asked.

Logan glanced at her in a way that was both defensive and accusing, as if he thought she was trying to mock him. “Haven't you read the Times?” he asked sardonically.

“I'm afraid not. I've been closed away from the world while my parents have tried to decide what to do with me.” Her brow creased with concern. “Hasn't the season gone well so far?”

“No,” he said curtly. “The critics have been sharpening their pens with glee.”

“But why—”

“The fault is mine,” he muttered.

“I don't understand,” she exclaimed, bewildered. “During rehearsals you were so brilliant, and I thought…” Her voice trailed away as she realized that the two plays in question had been launched after she had left London. She remembered the strange, blank look on his face the morning she had left him, and she was wrenched with regret. So this was yet another way in which she had caused him harm. “You were very ill, and so was a large portion of the company,” she murmured. “I'm certain that in time you and the Capital will regain your abilities—”

“I don't need you to make bloody excuses for me,” he snapped.

“Of course. I…I'm sorry.”

A sneer swept over his face. “I hate to bruise your vanity, sweet, but my professional difficulties have nothing to do with you. After you left, I found it surprisingly easy to put you out of mind, until your champion Mrs. Florence came to my dressing room last night.”

Her cheeks burned with humiliation, as he had intended. Logan felt a stab of satisfaction at the sight.

“I wish I could say the same. But I've thought about you every day and night. I'll never forgive myself for how I behaved. If you could only know how I—” She stopped suddenly, managing to stem the flow of renegade words.

Logan clenched his teeth. She made herself so damned vulnerable that there was no sport in crushing her. It was infuriating, it made him feel ashamed, and he didn't know how to deal with it.

He watched Madeline close her eyes and lean her head back against the seat, her lips parting with a sigh. Suddenly her skin seemed chalky against the chocolate, velvet upholstery. “What is it?” he asked abruptly.

She shook her head in a tiny motion and answered without opening her eyes. “I'm fine,” she said through stiff lips. “It's just that sometimes I feel a little…queasy.” The carriage bounced over a rough patch of road, and she pressed her lips together.

Logan regarded her suspiciously, wondering if she were trying to gain his sympathy. No, she was too pale to be faking illness. And now that he thought of it, Julia's morning sickness had lasted during her first three or four months of pregnancy, causing frequent absences at the theater. “Shall I tell the driver to stop?” he asked.

“No. I'm fine…really.”

She didn't seem fine. There was a pinched look on her face, and she kept swallowing convulsively.

Logan frowned and drummed his fingers on his taut thigh. He had been too preoccupied earlier to make certain that she had breakfast. As far as he knew, she hadn't eaten all day. “We'll reach Oxford soon. We'll stop at an inn there, and you can have an early supper.”

Madeline shook her head before he could even finish the sentence. “Thank you, but the thought of food…” She put her hand to her mouth and breathed until her nostrils flared.

“We'll stop soon,” he said, picking up a crystal decanter of water from a mahogany sideboard fitted in the carriage. He moistened a handkerchief and gave it to Madeline. She murmured gratefully and pressed the cloth to her face.

Remembering the covered basket that Mrs. Florence had packed for them, Logan reached beneath the seat and dug it out. He found a few pieces of fruit, a wedge of cheese, a few slices of brown bread, a small pudding wrapped in a damp napkin. “Here,” he said, extending a piece of bread to her. “Try this.”

She turned her face away weakly. “I couldn't swallow anything.”

He sat beside her and held the bread up. “One bite, damn you. I won't have you getting sick in my carriage.”

“I won't damage your precious carriage,” she said, lowering the handkerchief and glaring at him over the edge.

All of a sudden Logan wanted to smile at her defiance. He remoistened the cloth, folded it, and draped it over her forehead. “One bite,” he said, his voice gentle as he held the bread against her lips.

She made a sound of wretchedness and complied, chewing as if her mouth were filled with sawdust. Finally she swallowed, making a face as she tried to keep it down. It seemed to Logan that her color began to improve. “Another,” he said inexorably.

She ate slowly, seeming to feel better, until she relaxed and let out a deep sigh. “I'm better now. Thank you.”

Logan realized his arm was around her, securing her firmly to his side. Her head was close to the crook of his shoulder, her breast pressed lightly against his chest. The position was so natural, so comfortable, that he hadn't noticed what he was doing until that moment. She looked up at him with eyes like liquid amber. He remembered when she had taken care of him during his illness. No matter what else she had done, she had led him through the fever and nurtured him back to health. She had given him hope, and a taste of happiness.

And then she had taken it all away.

Overwhelmed with bitterness, he let go of her roughly. “Take better care of yourself in the future,” he said, returning to his own seat. “I'm not inclined to play nursemaid.”

Madeline was sick with dread as the carriage rolled along the winding drive to her family's estate. It was situated amid the gentle hills of Gloucestershire, with rich fields veined by mineral-laden creeks. The Matthewses' land was far more impressive than the manor house, which seemed to huddle awkwardly in the midst of a patch of smaller buildings. The tiny one- and two-room cottages had been erected to accommodate the family's need for extended servants' quarters and kitchen areas.

Logan glanced out the window at the estate and made no comment as they approached the manor house.

“My parents won't like the idea of our marriage,” Madeline said, plucking at her skirts. She was dressed in a plain, girlishly styled gown. It seemed to him that the bodice was already too tight across her breasts. He wondered why her parents hadn't yet suspected her pregnancy.

“I expect they'll be more than happy to have you married once they learn of your condition,” he said.

Madeline didn't look at him as she replied. “My parents disapprove of anyone associated with the theater. I think they would rather die than see their daughter enter into marriage with an actor.”

“No wonder you chose me,” he murmured, his eyes narrowing as he stared at her. “Not only were you able to rid yourself of your virginity; you also managed to pick a man whom your parents would find particularly offensive.”

“I never meant for anyone to find out whom I had slept with,” she said. “That was supposed to remain a secret.”

Logan scowled and swallowed back a stinging comment, reminding himself that now was not the time to argue. He had only one objective, and that was to inform the Matthews of what would take place in two weeks' time.

The carriage and outriders halted in front of the manor. Logan removed Madeline's lap robe and assisted her with her cloak. After fastening the soft wool at her throat, he gripped her chin in his fingers. He stared into her wide eyes, taking care not to mark her delicate skin with the pressure of his grip.

“There's something I want from you,” he murmured. “No one is to know that we're unwilling partners in this marriage. Everyone who sees us, including your parents, is to believe that the arrangement is desired on both sides. One unhappy glance from you, one hint that you're being forced into it, and I'll wring your little neck. Have I made myself clear?”

“I'm not an actor,” she replied stiffly. “I don't know how convincing I can be. If you expect me to walk into my parents' home and pretend that I'm happy—”

“That's exactly what I expect.” There was a discreet knock at the carriage door, the footman ready to assist them, but Logan ignored the sound. “You look like hell,” he said, staring at Madeline's white, strained face. “Smile. Try to relax.”

“I can't.” She gave him a glance rife with dread.

As Logan stared into her tense features, it occurred to him that she would belong to him for the rest of her life. Their blood would mingle in the veins of their child. It was paramount to the child, as well as Logan, that no one ever realize the true state of affairs between them. His pride demanded that Madeline look and behave like a woman in love, that she accept his suit with the appearance of gladness.

He cupped her face in his hands and brought his mouth to hers. He kissed her with all his considerable skill, slipping his tongue into her softness, probing and caressing until she responded helplessly. When he lifted his head, she was gasping, her face flushed.

Pulling back, Logan surveyed her dispassionately. “That's better.”

Helping her out of the carriage, he guided her along the paved circular pathway that led to the front door. The footman had already rushed ahead to knock on the cream-painted panels and announce their arrival. A welcome gust of warm air rushed out from the house's entryway.

Logan kept his arm around her in a solicitous manner that was guaranteed to shock the Matthewses. Although Madeline knew that his supportive arm was merely for show, she was grateful for it. She wondered how her parents would react to the impending news. Logan Scott lacked the all-important birthrights of aristocratic blood and family inheritances. Furthermore, they had made it clear that a professional man would never be suitable for one of their daughters, even one involved in medicine or the law. An actor was unthinkable.

Both her parents appeared in the entryway with expressions of horrified amazement. Her mother's aristocratic features were pale, her narrow mouth pinched with outrage. “Madeline, you should be with Justine!”

“There was a change of plans,” Logan replied, stepping forward with a slight bow. “An honor to make your acquaintance, Lady Matthews.”

Madeline winced as her mother gave Logan a deliberate snub, stepping backward and refusing to make any gesture of welcome.

“Mr. Scott,” Lord Matthews said, staring at the pair of them in disbelief, “perhaps we can retire to the parlor, where you may attempt to explain this situation to me.”


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